Hunter Biden Is on Trial for Gun Charges. Here’s What to Know

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Less than a week after a New York jury convicted former President Donald Trump, another historic trial is set to begin in Wilmington, Delaware. Hunter Biden’s trial on federal gun charges is scheduled to start on Monday, June 3, the first criminal trial of the child of a sitting U.S. President. He’s charged with three felony firearm offenses stemming from a gun purchase in 2018, during a period he has said he was struggling with drug addiction.

He’s pleaded not guilty.

The trial is expected to last for up to two weeks and comes at a moment when his father President Joe Biden is locked in a close race for the presidency with Trump, who was found guilty of 34 felony counts in a Manhattan fraud case.

Here’s what to know about the Hunter Biden trial.

What are the charges?

The Justice Department has charged Hunter Biden with unlawfully purchasing a revolver while using illicit drugs and lying on both a federal form and to a firearms dealer about his drug use when he purchased the weapon in October 2018. He has publicly admitted that he was struggling with a crack cocaine addiction during that period.

“All my energy revolved around smoking drugs and making arrangements to buy drugs — feeding the beast,” he wrote in his 2021 memoir “Beautiful Things.” 

Hunter Biden has pleaded not guilty to the charges, and his lawyers have filed several motions to dismiss the case. During the trial, federal prosecutors are planning to present photos, testimony, and messages to show that Hunter Biden was using illegal drugs at the time he purchased a Colt Cobra 38SPL and failed to disclose that on the gun purchase form, as is required by federal law.

To secure a conviction, prosecutors will need to prove to jurors that Hunter Biden knowingly made a false statement on the federal form, that the statement was meant to deceive the salesman on a fact material to the sale, and that he knew he was an unlawful user of or addicted to controlled substances.

Hunter Biden’s lawyers have suggested they may argue in court that he had recently finished rehab and may not have considered himself a drug user at the time he purchased the revolver. “The terms ‘user’ or ‘addict’ are not defined on the form and were not explained to him,” Abbe Lowell, the primary defense attorney for Hunter Biden, wrote in court documents filed in May. “Someone, like Mr. Biden who had just completed an 11-day rehabilitation program and lived with a sober companion after that, could surely believe he was not a present tense user or addict.”

The gun charges were brought after a years-long investigation by Department of Justice Special Counsel David Weiss, the U.S. Attorney for Delaware who was appointed by former President Donald Trump. Weiss initially began investigating Hunter Biden’s tax affairs in December 2020, weeks after Joe Biden won the 2020 election. According to The Washington Post, federal agents had given the U.S. Attorney in Delaware information that Hunter Biden reportedly answered “no” to a question on a gun purchase form in 2018 asking if he was using illicit drugs.

What penalties could Hunter Biden face?

If convicted on all three counts, Hunter Biden faces a maximum punishment of 25 years in prison and hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines. However, it’s rare for defendants to get a maximum sentence when they are first-time offenders like the President’s son.

By law, lying on a Firearms Transaction Record is a felony and a conviction on that charge could carry a prison sentence of up to 10 years for each count. Unlawfully purchasing a revolver while using illicit drugs carries a maximum prison sentence of up to five years. But legal experts say it’s atypical for prosecutors to bring charges on the infraction. Some defendants in past similar cases didn’t face jail time at all. 

Ultimately, U.S. District Judge Maryellen Noreika in Delaware will decide sentencing if Hunter Biden is convicted by the jury, which consists of 12 residents of New Castle County. 

Was there a plea deal for these charges?

Hunter Biden had previously reached an agreement with the Justice Department to plead guilty to two misdemeanor tax charges in a separate case and avoid prosecution on the gun charge if he was willing to submit to probation, enter a diversion program, remain drug-free for 24 months, and agree to never own a firearm again. But that deal fell apart in court in July 2023 after Judge Noreika balked at signing off on the plea deal.

Congressional Republicans at the time had blasted the Justice Department for its efforts to pursue the plea deal with Hunter Biden, with Rep. James Comer, Republican of Kentucky and the chairman of the House Oversight Committee, calling it a “slap on the wrist” that revealed a “two-tiered system of justice.”

What about the laptop?

Messages stored on Hunter Biden’s laptop after he bought the revolver could come up at trial. Emails and photos from his laptop were spread online after he allegedly dropped it off at a Delaware repair shop and the hard drive was allegedly acquired by Trump loyalist Rudy Giuliani. 

Hunter Biden’s legal team intend to raise questions about the authenticity of the files from the laptop in the trial, but prosecutors have said there’s no evidence the data was compromised. In one of the text messages that prosecutors plan to use as evidence, according to court filings, Hunter Biden allegedly wrote that he was waiting for his “dealer named Mookie” the day after he purchased the gun. The following day Hunter Biden allegedly wrote, “I was sleeping on a car smoking crack on 4th Street and Rodney.”

What else is Hunter Biden being investigated for?

In addition to the three counts in Delaware, Hunter Biden is also facing federal tax charges in Los Angeles for allegedly failing to pay at least $1.4 million in taxes in income from foreign businesses during the years he’s acknowledged being addicted to drugs. He was charged in December by a federal grand jury in California with evasion of a tax assessment, failure to file and pay taxes, and filing a false or fraudulent tax return. He has pleaded not guilty.

That case is set to go to trial in September, during the home stretch of the campaign season for his father. 

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